Weeknotes #255

This week I did:

Programmes, products, projects

I spent a some thinking thinking through how we translate what our programme teams are developing for future courses into what we need to build into our products to enable the courses. It really does feel like a translation as there’s lots of different language and understanding that is important to get right.

One of our teams have adopted goal-based Now/Next/Later roadmaps for their projects. I was so impressed I messaged the project manager to tell them how happy I was to see it Ok, I’m a roadmap geek and I can admit it. Something I’ve realised about roadmaps is that the approaches, models and tools only work for a small number of elements. I wonder if the idea that roadmaps shouldn’t have too many things on them comes from the tools and models not being able to effectively represent lots of elements, or if it’s the idea drives the existence of the models. Maybe the limitations of the models is what keeps people using Gantt charts.


I had a few hours of inspiration about some of the things I want to include in my product management in charities email series so I made some notes will spend some of my time off work next week on writing the emails, setting-up the automation and sign-up form. It’s on my delivery plan to just get the emails written in June so if I can get the whole thing set up then I’ll be well ahead of schedule.

Escape form Bigbury

I went to beach last weekend a d found a nice spot to read a couple of innovation books for a few hours. During that time the tide came in and cut me off from the walking out the way I came in. I put my clothes and books into my bag, held it above my head and swam across a river, climbed up a small cliff, broke my sandals, and walked eight miles back to my car barefoot. I love these little adventures. It’s like being a kid again, getting myself into trouble and relying on myself to get out.

Blockchain in entrepreneurship

This week’s lecture was about the use of Blockchain in entrepreneurial business models, including the use of ICO‘s, which is an interesting way for start-ups to raise investment. ICO’s follow a standard approach of demonstrating that the start-up has four things that will lead to it’s success; human capital, quality of business model, social media activity, and a project elaboration whitepaper. The whitepaper is an organisational strategy document that aims to attract investors by expressing the business model. Tech start-ups often fail because they are more focused on building their solution than on validating the market needs and strategy for meeting it, so it’s interesting to see whitepapers as a mechanism for pulling them towards a more holistic approach.

And thought about:

What are we trying to achieve?

I’ve had various conversations this week, in various contexts, where trying to decide what action to take was hampered by a lack of clarity about what was trying to be achieved. Knowing the end goal becomes a guide for decision making, along with principle stacks in more complicated situations. So many of our tools and mental models are at the task level (see defining our unit of analysis below) which make it easier for us to get on with doing something, and make it harder for us to decide and remain focused on the goal.

Projects within projects

How do projects relate to each other? A project can be:

  • Building block – not dependent on other projects but with others dependent on it.
  • Chain – dependent on another with others dependent on it.
  • Standalone – no projects are dependent on it and it isn’t dependent on any.
  • Destination – dependent on other projects but with nothing dependent on it.

But that’s a pretty two-dimensional cause-and-effect view of how projects relate to each other. What about a ‘Russian doll’ relational model of project within project within project? Do we assume that projects are standalone entities when really they aren’t? What issues does this cause within organisations?

Define your unit of analysis

One of the difficult things about talking about innovation, or maybe anything that lacks an agreed definition, is being clear about what level you’re referring to. Are you talking about innovation as an activity within a company or an industry or a nation? In each of those cases the ‘unit of analysis’ is different and so the conversation is different, and confusing if different people are referring to different units of analysis without realising it.

Harmonic wave

I love a completely spurious and unconnected analogy. So, on that note, here’s why harmonic waves pendulums explain why keeping people aligned at work is so hard. The pendulums are made of a line of weights each hanging on a string of a different length. This means that even when they all start swinging together they swing at different speeds. In a harmonic wave pendulum it produces interesting patterns but at work people working at different speeds, because they have different tasks, different priorities, etc., produces dependencies, blockers, repetition and all the other things that make work inefficient. So, what’s the answer? Artificial constraints to keep everyone moving at the same speed? Redistributing work so those who are faster do more? Slice work into smaller pieces to make it easier? Yes. No. Depends.

And read:

The Power of Creative Destruction

Since reading about Schumpeter and the ideas he had about how innovation relies on creative destruction, that is one innovation destroying and replacing another, I thought he was wrong. It seems more likely that innovation builds on what went before. The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations by Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel reconsiders Schumpeter and what effect his ideas have had on how we approach innovation.

Work from Home & Productivity

This research showed that during a period of pandemic-enforced working from home (context is important but not really recognised enough) IT professionals spent more time doing less work. Productivity fell by 20% because although the study’s participants were working longer hours, more of that time was in meetings. What can we take from this, other than meetings are bad? Two things, I think. More meetings happen because organisations don’t have effective ways to coordinate work asynchronously (arguably they don’t have synchronous means to coordinate effectively either, but hey…) and so default to more meetings in an attempt to achieve coordination. And then, secondly, the visibility of workers in meetings serves as replacement for trust in workers.

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

Written in 2015, A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work describes the old versus new, which I like as a way of helping to make clear the unknown unknowns of the new way of work and draw lines of distinction. I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘operating systems’ for work, how we define the basic rules that create the behaviours we want to see at higher levels. Boyd’s manifesto helps with a far-off vision of what work could be like, rather than a realistic current model, but it’s interesting nonetheless from a ‘it’s a systems problem not a people problem‘ point of view.

Weeknotes #227

This week I did:

Planning for mobilisation

Now that we’re underway with development I’m shifting my focus to how we’re gong to be mobilising. One of the interesting things I’ve been working on this week is risk assessments. How we assess risks, understand our assumptions and biases about risk, maintain an up-to-date understanding of the risks that are constantly changing is an interesting challenge. Handling risk effectively is a balancing game.

Solving the tacit knowledge problem with AI

I had an interesting conversation with Matt Ballantine about “Microsoft patent filings describe a system for deriving and predicting ‘overall quality scores’ for meetings using data such as body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and number of people in the meeting.” Most of the outrage on Twitter about this patent was around it being used as surveillance technology to allow managers to monitor employees. I don’t disagree with this, but I think Microsoft has a very different end game in mind.

Lot of organisations are already using Teams for all of their communications. That means every word that is said in a video meeting or typed in a chat message is available for analysis. If Microsoft developed a means for doing a similar thing in real-life meetings then there would be even more communication being codified into information. But why not just record meetings? Because to understand the meaning of the information you need to understand the interaction.

I think Microsoft is trying to solve the tacit knowledge problem: to codify knowledge, wisdom, intuition and make it transferable. Michael Polanyi thought that tacit knowledge could not be codified, but that wouldn’t stop you if your hypothesis was that codifying the tacit knowledge held by employees and turning it into a competitive advantage was good for business.

Prioritising side-projects

I’ve got lots of projects on the go and even more ideas for projects that I haven’t started yet. So how do should I choose which one to work on? Some of my Tweeps had some suggestions so I put them all into a blog post.

Digital nomad

I’ve started a newsletter about my experiences of being a digital nomad, remote working, minimalism and leading an intentional life. I not quite sure what I’m going to do with it other than record my roadtrip and see what I learn about this way of life.

500 Digital Tools: a mega thread on Twitter

I set myself the target of getting my digital tools list to 500 by the end of the year and said I would put them all into a mega thread on Twitter. I wasn’t expecting to be an entire day’s work but at least I got it done. I’d really like to create make business model recipes as part of buildbetter.systems like these examples from Whit.

I read some stuff:

Innovation as learning

I read lots about innovation as part of my revision for my upcoming exam. There is so much interesting thinking trapped in pdf’s and held behind institutional logins. I’d love to have the time to write about each paper I read and bring those thoughts out.

Charities and politics

Like everyone else on Charity Twitter, I read Baroness Stowell’s article saying that charities shouldn’t get involved in party politics and culture wars. Lots of people argued that charities should and/or have no choice but to be involved in politics, but I wonder whether that was really the point of the article (which was very poorly written and not backed-up). I think it was more likely written with the purpose of inflaming the charity sector. To make a statement to effect that charities shouldn’t get involved in ‘culture wars’, by which we can assume she means the current events and movements around anti-racism, but doing so in a way that draws them into the culture war by writing an article in a national newspaper, seems suspicious to me. So, the question is, how should we respond to trolling?

Building your own website is cool again

This article about people getting into setting up their own websites is pretty interesting. It mentions some of the tools people are using at the moment and the interesting point around how personal websites compare to social media, which of course are different solutions to different problems, one being about ownership and longevity and the other being about immediacy and reach.

And thought about:

Learning business model

I’ve been trying to figure out a flywheel business model for my knowledge building. It includes how information is inputted into the system through newsletters, books, studying, etc., how it is processed into knowledge, correlated with other knowledge to form new ideas, and codified to be outputted. And then how the outputs feed back in as inputs to be correlated with any new inputs and drive the flywheel. My hope is that if I can design it to work hypothetically I can then optimise my learning practice to test and improve the model.

Connected to this but at a different level is the idea of the knowledge society, that knowledge (or probably more accurately ‘information’ as the aspects of knowledge that can be codified and transferred) is more valuable than physical goods in a post-industrial society.

Power structures and information structures

I’ve been thinking for a while now about how power and information follow very different structures within organisations. Power is typically organised hierarchically whilst information more usually follows a network structure. If we follow the assumption that innovation requires the creation of new knowledge, that how organisations allow information to flow (which I think fits with Christensen’s point that when orgs are small they are more resource-focused and maintain knowledge in individuals but as they become larger that knowledge becomes expressed by the culture).

In a way, this organisation-level thinking fits in between the individual knowledge flywheel, where the the unit of analysis is the individual, and the knowledge society thinking as that is information flow at the largest scale. So the question is, are information models fractal, in that the same pattern exists at every level, or is it not that simple?

Know what you bring

I’ve been thinking a bit about personal branding. I have an idea for a chatbot that helps indie makers identify their personal brand so I’ve been doing a bit of research.

  • In my personal branding (whatever that means, I still not sure) I think about what value I bring to any given situation I’m trying to have an impact in. It can take a while to figure it out, and something it feels more or less clear to me, but it’s what I mean by the phrase ‘know what you bring’.
  • Wes Kao said, “If you cringe at the idea of personal branding, reframe it to yourself as personal credibility. Personal credibility is about being good at your craft & keeping your promises.”
  • This OSINT framework is pretty cool. It’s almost like reverse personal branding. It’s intended as a guide for how to find out open-source intelligence about someone, but if you turn it around it becomes a guide of where to control your brand image.
  • People are trying to become brands. Brands are trying to become people.

Some people tweeted

Build in public

KP tweeted, “Building in public helps you put in reps and build muscles on:

  • shipping products
  • staying accountable to goals
  • handling PR & media
  • handling a multiple of inputs (often from customers or potential customers)
  • the art of storytelling
  • the thick skin to be a founder”

Building in public is the compounding network effects of the Maker community. It allows people to become known for something, to learn from others as they build, and create a sense of abdunance

But building isn’t enough

Toby Allen tweeted, “Want to validate your idea?

  1. Setup a Gumroad Pre-order page
  2. Add a wicked description and mockups
  3. Clearly state it will only get built if you pass X number of pre-orders
  4. Survey all users that pre-purchase.

Build it or Kill it!”

I completely agree about validating ideas by putting them in front of people, but perpetuating the idea that building is enough to get validation of an idea is unhelpful. Maybe this needs a step 0 of ‘Build an audience’ and a step 3.5 of ‘Promote the hell out of it’. Maybe the maker community focuses too much on building because building is the easy bit.

The 9 biggest lessons

Will Myddelton tweeted, “I’ve learned so much about doing product work in the last two years. These are the 9 biggest lessons I’m taking away.

  1. Riskiest assumption experiments are my north star
  2. Off-the-shelf software is cheap and crazy powerful
  3. Whole-team planning creates shared direction
  4. You’re gonna need a bigger goal
  5. User research with real signups is my jam
  6. People respond best to real people
  7. Written culture makes things resilient
  8. The runway won’t take care of itself
  9. Working with an ADHDer has changed me
  10. I made (more) mistakes”

All good things to learn.